I don’t like conflict. I don’t like watching it on TV or in a movie; I don’t like hearing other people argue in person, and I certainly don’t enjoy being a part of it myself. But there I stood, in front of the Social Security office being blessed out by a very large, very irate black woman. She had chased out after me when I left and I didn’t even realize she was talking to me until my daughter, Maggie drew my attention to her. I had brought three year old Kiki to get her name changed on her card, and Maggie came along to be a helping hand and keep me company. When I go out in public with my children, who don’t look like me and don’t look like each other either, I often get questions or comments, and I assumed this was no different. She wanted to know if this was a “foster baby”. I smiled proudly and told her “No ma’am, she’s my daughter.” And anticipating the next question I added, “She’s from Ghana.”
Then she kept talking. I couldn’t understand all she was saying at first, as we stood in the hot sun, me holding my daughter’s hand, and her, seeming to be upset about something. I heard her say something about how I “should not be bringing that baby out in public like that.” And then the next line really got my attention, “That there is abuse!” She pointed at my daughter with contempt and disgust, spitting out the word abuse accusingly. I was completely confused for a long moment as I switched mental gears from someone who might be kindly interested in my beautiful children, to a stranger who was feeling free to confront me and talk in such a way about, and in front of my children. My Mama Bear defenses began to kick in and I gathered my girls closer to me, trying to process how to respond to this woman.
I gathered that she was talking about Kiki, but as I quickly scanned my 3 year old from head to toe, I was still bewildered. She was dressed in a nice, play outfit. With all of our children, my kids rarely have store-bought clothes unless they are from family for their birthday, but their hand me downs and thrift store clothes are always clean and well kept. Her little white sandals were on the right feet, which is unusual, but at least that wasn’t the problem. Her legs had been lotioned up, and were not ashy. I had wiped her face after breakfast, and her short hair was neat and clean. Her head had been shaved when she was about two years old in Ghana, so she had only been growing it since then, and she has scars on her scalp from infections as a baby, but I do rub lotion on these, and she is always clean and combed when we go out. She blinked up at me with her huge dark eyes and long, curly eyelashes. Nine year old Maggie looked confused at the way I was being confronted, and looked to me for assurance as my mind was still scrambling for what problem this large woman, with straight orange hair might have with me and my daughter. Then as words continued to tumble out of her mouth, I heard something about a “black hair salon” and “giving me her card”. Was she trying to get business? No, she said she was a “pastor” and that she cared for several children herself, and what was I using on her hair? The absurdity of the situation sunk in as I realized that she was not taking offense to my child’s behavior, cleanliness, treatment, or dress…. but to her hair.
Now, I do realize that black people, (not unlike every other race of people incidentally), like to do nice – sometimes even elaborate – things with their hair, and that this is a billion dollar industry in our country. But long before I had adopted a black child, and even before I had adopted any children at all, I had come to my own conviction that it is wrong to spend an inordinate amount of money or time on how I, or my children, look. I think maybe it was during one of our mission trips to Haiti. There’s something about watching barely clothed children who are so hungry that their mother has fed them dirt, to make you think hard about what people in our country spend on their toenails alone. An older woman on this trip sat holding the hand of a smiling child, and I saw the contrast of that child’s small brown hand against the woman’s large diamond ring, and all I could think about was how that ring alone could probably feed, clothe, educate and bring health to all the children in that orphanage for quite some period of time. No, I didn’t think it was wrong for her to wear her diamond ring. But suddenly it was wrong for me.
I think very hard about what I spend on things like hair, makeup, fingernails, and decorations for our bodies and homes. It is a hard conviction to have. Yes, I like my little girls to wear bows in their hair, and to paint their nails sometimes for fun, but I am very careful. I always have before me the sights and sounds, the smells and faces of all the orphanages in the world that I have visited. I am ashamed that years ago I once went and got my hair done at a salon for $80. I think about how far $80 could have gone to help someone in the world today just to live another day, perhaps a day that they might have been told about eternity. Or how it could have gone to help an adopting family bring another child home to a loving, godly family. And when my husband was laid off, I learned how $80 could go a very long way in getting groceries to feed seven hungry kids. When your kids are hungry and need prescription medications, $80 does not go very far at all. In light of all that, even an $8 box of hair color suddenly seemed preposterous to me. So I cut all my kids’ hair myself, and I go to Super Cuts every few months to get my hair trimmed myself. I buy discount and generic products, ask shamelessly for hand-me-downs from friends, and simply cannot justify overspending for the sake of vanity, not for myself, and not for my children.
But besides the money spent, as the mother of children with special needs, some of whom do not look like other children, I feel it is imperative that I instill in them that their worth and value and acceptance are not at all based on their appearance. Not on their faces, or clothes, or hair, or abilities. This is not how God views them, and this is not how I view them, and it is not how I want them to view others. I teach them 1 Peter 3:3-6 “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”
What message are we sending to our children when we insist that they spend long amounts of time, and substantial amounts of money merely to beautify or embellish themselves? This woman leaned forward, towering over me, and told me that she was just trying to tell me that people are going to look badly at me and my daughter if I let her “go out like that.” I told her, “If they do, then that is their problem. I am used to people looking badly at me. People think I am bad for adopting children who look different than I do, for educating them at home, for teaching them about God, and a score of other things. I don’t base how I raise my children on what “other people” think. I base it on what God thinks. I answer to Him, not to ‘other people’. And I think my daughter is absolutely beautiful. Are you telling me that she is not?”
She switched lanes and asked me what I use on her hair. I told her that my 24 year old daughter is Haitian and that she bought the hair products that I use on her, and that I wash her hair every week, and I do moisturize and comb her hair. She is always clean and neat, just like my other children. I almost laughed when she spat out, “Well they Haitians do they hair diff’rent than we do.” I was incredulous at the implication here.
She started to lecture me about “race” and how I couldn’t possibly understand what my daughter’s needs were because I’m not “of the race”. To which I informed her that I most certainly am, and that we are all of the race of Adam and that God sees us all the same, and I want to see others as He sees us. There will be no races in heaven, and I have raised my children to not regard them here on earth either. Then I tried to bring the conversation back to her earlier point. Was she trying to tell me, in the middle of a parking lot, that my daughter was not beautiful? Or not well cared for? Not even addressing what gave her the audacity to do such a thing; I often see children out in public with messy and even dirty hair, but would never think that gave me the right to address their parents about it, much less accuse them of abuse! But what exactly was she considering to be the standard for public decency in children anyway? If my child had a big scar over her mouth and a flat nose, or had a crooked back and was smaller than all the other kids his age, should I keep those kids out of sight as well, so as not to offend people with their lack of “beauty”? All of my daughters and sons are as God made them, hair and all. I accept them all as they are, just as God accepted us. I think my children are exquisitely beautiful, and if they are clean and healthy and well cared for, what business is it for someone else to tell me that I ought to be doing more than that, much less that I am “abusing” or “neglecting” them by not doing more? It was almost laughable. If she only knew all the time and money that had already been spent just bringing this child to health and into this country! Like Job, she “spoke of things she did not understand.”
But frankly, which is more abusive: Making your child sit for several hours on a Saturday afternoon while their hair is stretched and yanked on and pulled until they are in tears, or letting your child run with their siblings on the same afternoon in the backyard sunshine, swinging and laughing, and jumping in the swimming pool? And just for the record, I do do pretty things with my daughters’ hair sometimes for fun. But my children know that this is for fun, never takes money that could be used to help someone else, and most importantly, is not what defines them. They know what is most important. I walk my talk.
And finally, I just have to add that the irony of this woman was not lost on me as she shook her angry finger at me in that parking lot, with her highly processed, straight and orange hair, looking disdainfully at my daughter’s natural, black, curly hair, sparkly lightly in the sun, with the unique and natural beauty God had so creatively and providentially painted and sculpted her with. I thought of the bondage this woman must be in to have her worth so attached to these rituals, and how absurd it was, on so many levels, for her to be accusing me of abuse. If she only knew a fraction of all I lovingly invest in these children each and every day while she drops her children off at place after place. But she threw her hands up in exasperation and stalked off, only stopping to turn around at the door and yell angrily at me, “You ah a stubbon lady! You ah a stubbon one! I gonna pray over YOU!” And then she was gone.
Kiki making sure her dolly is ready to go out in public!